Monday, 13 May 2019

"Who do I say I am?" - #Unitarians and friends gather again in Ringwood for a contemplative time together in May 2019

The gathering in May was the second time we used the ‘Heart and Soul’ style format, and this time the topic was “Who do I say I am?”

The gathering included the simple “circle” ritual long adopted by our group, as well as spaces for giving thanks, reflecting gently on our own day so far, a period for silent meditation, and offering prayers for others.  There was also some music.
The theme was introduced by our president for the day.  The thrust was that we worry so much about what others may intuit, or interpret about us, and what their judgements might be; when we could just save ourselves and others a lot of trouble by owning our own ‘names’ right from the start.
So we must begin with some soul searching.  After that we need some self-honesty in how we communicate the ‘who’ of ourselves through our words and actions.  Ridding ourselves of self-deceit, if we ourselves are clear who we are and then ‘speak’ it truly, then it makes for a happier us.

Our ‘name’ or ‘names’ don’t need to be a secret for fear they give people power over us: for it is only our fear making them a secret that does that.  For our ‘name’ is our power and our presence in the world.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Ringwood #Unitarians experiment in April with the “heart & soul” service using some key movements identified by @revwik

At our April gathering we for the first time took advantage of a new format of service.  We had experienced the format first hand at the Festival of Unitarians in the South East (FUSE) in Worthing, Sussex UK, in February.

We have chosen to try the new “heart and soul” format so that we are one of several UK Unitarian congregations now experimenting with it. Knowing that others are also trying it connects us a little bit more; on social media we can have conversations with others who are familiar with it; and it also means that visitors from other congregations may more readily recognise what is happening in our gatherings. In a widely scattered community like the Unitarian movement, even tenuous links like that can help to glue us all together.

The “heart and soul” format is more about experience than words or knowledge, and it was easy to fit our traditional, simple, experiential ritual into it.  The overall topic was “What is church?”, and no prescriptive answer was given.  As with all things Unitarian, it was anticipated that participants would place their own interpretation on what was offered.

We framed our time together using hymns, contemplative words from Unitarian leaders sourced from the www, a children’s story from the Brothers Grimm, and an extract from Plato ALCIBIADES I.  There was an exercise in selecting at random a line of poetry or a question, so that these could be explored together.
At the very heart of the “heart and soul” service there are four aspects: 
  • Naming: an opportunity to give thanks 
  • Knowing: a gentle reflection on our own day  
  • Listening: a time of silent meditation
  • Loving: offering prayers for others 
We first came across these aspects around 1999 when they were first set out by Rev Erik Walker Wikstrom @revwik, in an essay published in Everyday Spiritual Practice - Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, editor Scott W. Alexander A wonderful book, highly recommended, which we hold in our library for anyone to borrow.

The people who took place in our first “heart and soul” gathering are now reflecting on how they feel about the new format, and it will be tried again in May.

“Heart and soul” has the benefit that there is more of a group collaboration in curating the safe space for reverence, and less pressure on the ‘president for the day’ to craft a coherent and intellectually satisfying gathering.  We always look for meaningful ideas, but we know it can feel daunting to be asked to lead, if leading requires a homily to be prepared.  Small groups without trained ministers can - and must - minister to each other, and as many people as possible must be given the chance to try.  A group that does not rely on one or two strong leaders will be more resilient in the long term.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Different Religions, Different Approaches at our gathering in March 2019 - #Unitarians mustn't sideline studying different faiths - thinking as well as experiencing has its place

At our gathering on 10 March we held a service designed with children in mind, though the children’s story was - like the best stories - multi-layered, with several messages for adults to unpick during the week to come.

Our gathering picked up on an aspect of the life of communities of faith that seemed to have been missing from the recent Festival of Unitarians in the South East, which we had attended as a group.  That aspect was a journey into comparative religion, or comparison of different theological perspectives from different world faiths.

We started with a Pagan creed, written by one of our own number, then heard readings from the Baha’i and Hindu faiths. We considered several points.

The first point was the particular theological difference highlighted in the two readings, namely that the Baha’i faith considers God the Creator to be completely distinct and separate from the created universe, with the two not in any way to be equated.  By contrast, the Hindu faith sees the ultimate creating principle, Brahman, to exist as Atman inside all that is created; and that a person who realises the Atman within has also realised Brahman, so may in all seriousness declare, “I am God.”  This may chime with some of the sayings of Jesus and other mystics, whose words are recorded in such a way sometimes to be unclear as to who is speaking.

Shrine of Bahā'u'llāh, the prophet of the Baha'i faith, in Acre, Israel
We also heard that whereas Western Christianity as known during the late Middle Ages seemed to stand definitively with the Baha’is on this issue, St Francis of Assisi challenged this with his reverence for all things created; and his legacy has come through to the present day.  Franciscan teachers such as Richard Rohr and those likeminded in his community feel able to make statements such as this, in the present day (the link below the image is to the source website):

The second point considered was that when people of two theologies come into contact with each other, there are (at least) two possible reactions.  Religious people who are conservative in their approach may set up barriers in order not to dilute their message for the sake of certainty, and to keep their identity clear.  Religious people who are liberal (progressive) in their approach may seek to include both theologies in order to prevent boundaries being set up and to include more people.  We explored that as well as benefits, there are costs associated with each approach.  The actions of religious conservatives may instigate conflict.  The actions of religious liberals will require change within the group to accommodate new ideas, which is hard work, and can give rise to uncertainty regarding identity and who belongs.  We owe these ideas to Jonathan Haidt.

The third point we looked at is the idea that being conversant with a range of different world faith theologies and concepts makes one multi-lingual in terms of religion.  As with languages of the world: some things can be said in one language that simply cannot be said in another language.  People who can only speak one language find this hard to grasp, but bilingual families will recognise this very well.  For much more on this fascinating subject see David Bellos Is That A Fish In Your Ear? Translation and the meaning of everything
If we can speak the lingo of another faith then, even with people whose theologies we cannot share, we can have some extremely interesting and civilised conversations. And more personally, in having a variety of different ways of speaking about faith we have a richer vocabulary in which to speak about the religious experience.

Rev Bill Darlison (a Unitarian Minister) has also touched on the idea of one’s early received religion as one’s mother tongue, in his book of essays The Penultimate Truth and Other Incitements

Woven into all this thinking in our gathering, we also did some experiencing.  We experienced our usual silent ritual of making a circle with a candle, bread, water, and a fan of feathers.  We sang a couple of hymns from our green hymn books, held a seven minute silence for meditation or prayer as we each needed, and lit candles of joy and concern.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

The new divide in society post 2016, how we may understand it, and what we can do about it - not an answer from the #Unitarians, but something to think about

Two of us were introduced to the ideas of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt today, when we visited the Inclusive Community Church at Pokesdown.
This TED Talk was recorded shortly after the American presidential election in 2016 but it is relevant to Europe, and to 2019 UK. "We need to recognise this is a turning point - we need a new kind of empathy." Passing references to Buddha, Jesus and Marcus Aurelius - and also Dale Carnegie's book How to win friends and influence people, a classic that I have always loved.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Armchair Ideology: Against Factoids

Unitarians are people who struggle hard to find out what they find it possible to believe, and then struggle again to find a way to live that out in practice.  In those struggles we seek the help of others, as well as employing our own observations of the cosmos and our relationships.

This blog entry by is one that challenges us to question fake assertions, and reveals some of the causes of our ability to identify fake assertions.  This is important not just in terms of religious faith but in all aspects of life.

Take a look at it.  Have a think for yourself.

Armchair Ideology: Against Factoids: As most reading this will know, recently on Question Time Jacob Rees Mogg attempted to defend British concentration camps in the Boer war. H...